I feel... like this book went an entirely different way by the end than it had been going towards the beginning. Honestly, I feel a little betrayed, although most people may not have the same reaction. The book started off really interesting and unusual, with two characters that were intelligent and became fast friends regardless of the oddities that they became part of. I admired both of them, Merle and Junipa, because these were girls that were willing to be friends with one another and give each other fair chances, regardless of the personality differences and resignations they had. It was a book that had its unique fantasy elements as well, with living and breathing stone lions, to mermaids that lived in the canals of Venice, our story's main stage, to a magical mirror maker that the two girls were apprenticed to.
Everything started off really intriguing and unique for a fantasy book. It had its own story to tell, and was woven with fascinating purpose and fun, haphazard interactions. Yet there was that sensation of lingering mystery and foreboding over the entire tale, like storm clouds on the horizon darkening the sky, but far enough away that you weren't certain if it would come your way at all or just blow off.
The side characters themselves were truly engaging as well, and I liked each of them for their own strange and beautiful, even sad reasons. Characters like Eft really tugged at my heart strings, and even the rambunctious boys working for Arcimboldo were good characters, if typical boys. *Grins crookedly* Serafin, too, as another main character--though we get to see less of him than Merle--really called to me with his dashing and yet mature personality, his thieving background and insatiable curiosity. Overall, the cast we have to work with was a fun one that brought out unique and enjoyable interactions and kept the book moving forward.
My issue with the book begins to arise when we get to meet a mythical entity called The Flowing Queen. She is apparently a being that has protected the city of Venice for countless decades as it lay under perpetual siege of the Egyptian empire, who to the current time in the book, still sits camped outside the city in a complete and total ring of troops. Meeting this being was at first interesting, but very soon I got a whiff of her mentality when she suggested using the forces of Hell (a real place that exists at the center of the earth in this book) to protect the city simply because she (for unspoken reasons) no longer could at that time.
It's a brave thing for any author to do, and I will not fault an author for wanting to introduce controversial elements into the book. Typically it'll result in a 50/50 split in the audiences: Those who don't mind the controversial elements and want to see what'll happen regardless; and those who will be offended and will stop reading the book because of this.
For a while after I finished this book, I was on the fence with this very decision. The Flowing Queen brought up the suggestion yet another time, and the author himself made a point of showing the consequences of making deals with Hell's representatives with a couple of characters throughout the book. At the very end, we get the prime example of how Hell and its Leaders think of the mortal beings with whom they bargain with. Without getting into spoilers, lets just say that the life of one of the characters I grew very attached to suddenly hangs in the balance, and the person who made this pact with Hell's leaders essentially seems to buckle under their demands--for obvious and good reason--to the point where not even guilt will stop him from sacrificing someone's innocent life. What really plays as the clincher is when he says, "Well, I took [this character] into my home because I was supposed to turn them over to Hell in the first place. Instead of giving them to Hell a few years from now, I'm going to have to give them over to them a lot sooner than I thought."
Then they try to sell you some bulls**t about "I was trying to help the children".
Well if you were trying to help the children, you would think with your talents or even just your bare bones and skin, you'd be able to make a living for them doing anything you had to instead of through A PACT WITH HELL WHERE YOU SACRIFICE INNOCENTS TO SAVE OTHER INNOCENTS.
Does NO ONE see the hypocrisy here?!
Whatever the book had going for it was essentially ruined for me with the way the book started to turn sour the further along towards the end it got. Even the introduction of another amazing character at the end chapters of the book wasn't enough to get the bitter taste out of my mouth, thinking about the characters I loved being sacrificed like animals. To be fair, the book gives signs of having a possibility of turning around in the next book in the series and not carrying through on these ideas, but by the time I finished reading this first book, I was stuck feeling sick to my stomach with the thought that I was possibly going to pick up the next book and have to read more of this treachery.
The worst part is that the very "being" of The Flowing Queen, who is supposed to be the savior of this story, is suggesting the people of Venice make a pact with the very Hell that we're sacrificing my babies to.
I'm sorry. I can stomach quite a few things, but this just crosses a line that disgusts me and which I find utterly revolting. And if I sound pompous: deal with it. I have standards, and killing off characters to make blood pacts with Hell so you can live a life that's a lie and contradiction isn't up my alley.
Honestly, I can't in good conscience recommend this book to anyone. It was ruined for me, and people will do what people want, but I won't commend it. It has too much outweighing the positive aspects right now. If I give the second book a try in the future, I'll let you know. Right now-- I recommend skipping it.